CEDAR FALLS — The composition of Cedar Falls’ basketball team has certainly changed since the trio of leaders Kiana Barney, Cynthia Wolf and Kamryn Finley graduated and moved up the road to the University of Northern Iowa.
Tigers’ coach Gregg Groen, however, doesn’t have to look far on his roster to find athletes familiar with success. Multiple members of a Cedar Falls volleyball program that finished 46-1 are back in the gym this winter competing for a basketball program that has reached the state tournament in Groen’s first four seasons as head coach.
“(Volleyball) coach (Matt) Johnson and I have a great relationship,” Groen said. “We’re always talking big picture what we can do for our programs as a whole. We know that we need to share athletes. It has really helped and benefited both programs over the past few years.”
The Tigers will be led this season by the backcourt tandem of UNI basketball commit Emerson Green and sophomore Anaya Barney. Both have played key minutes since their freshman year with Green’s 15 points a game leading last year’s team, while Barney averaged nine points and over one 3-pointer per contest.
“Both of them had a great offseason,” Groen said. “Those two, along with the seniors we have this year, will be stepping into leadership roles and helping some of those younger kids coming into the program become successful.”
Center McKenna Gleason and guard Morgan Sterrett are a pair of seniors back as returning letterwinners. Juniors Lexie Godfrey, Kirsten Graves, Emmey Sherbon and Kacia Brown will be joining the varsity roster in addition to freshman guard Sarah Albaugh.
“Keys will be how quickly we can come together and get used to each other’s play,” Groen noted. “There are a lot of opportunities for players to step in and find a role on the team.”
Four returning starters and an intriguing freshman addition has Waterloo West’s basketball program poised to make a step forward after finishing last season 11-12.
Na’Tracia Ceaser is among the Wahawks’ senior leaders after averaging 16 points a game and knocking down 41 3-pointers. Coach Tony Pappas said Ceaser is much healthier going into this season than she has been the previous two in which she battled through injury and illness.
Point guard Lauren Conrey, post Jada Draine and wing Gabby Moore also return to the Wahawks with starting experience.
“We’ve got a good mix of players,” Pappas said. “I think that they’ve all improved from last season. We’re looking forward to the great challenges that our schedule provides us.”
Freshman Brooklynn Smith, a 6-foot-3 center, could quickly become an impact player as she adds a valuable frontcourt presence. Brooklynn’s mom, Nina Smith — a 1999 USA Today national player of the year — is one of West’s all-time greats.
“Brooklynn is her own person,” Pappas said. “She’s a young player. We know that. She’s got a lot of growing to do, and she will.
“We feel as the season goes on she’ll continually improve and hopefully be playing her best basketball by the end of the year which could help us immensely.”
Seniors Amanee Clark, Nia Crowley and Kerris Roberts have been instrumental in the growth of a Trojans program that is looking to build on last year’s six-win campaign.
Roberts, a Purdue track recruit, averaged 19 points and eight rebounds, while Clark added 14 points and four assists per game last season.
East will be undersized as its top post, Ma’Kaiyla Johnson, recovers from a shoulder injury. Madison Whitson, Jessica Hyke and Aaliyah Franklin are back as letterwinners. Freshmen Key’Lajaha Jefferson-Putman, Ellasa Horton and Laymoni Smith are all projected to see varsity minutes.
“A point of emphasis is ball pressure and extending our defense as well as having a better offensive flow,” East coach William Muhammad noted.
Senior forward Sydney Schultz returns as the Sailors’ leading scorer after averaging 10 points a game last season. Sophomores Ali Vesely and Reagan Lindsay are also back after earning varsity starts as freshmen.
Kayla Sproul, Maliyah Little, Emily Surma and Hanna Hewitt are among the other returning letterwinners, while freshmen Chloe Butler, Maddy Knipp and Eva Christensen have joined the varsity roster.
“These are high character kids that will compete every night,” Columbus coach Cory O’Brien noted. “Our posts are athletic and run the floor well. Our defense will be much improved. This is an unselfish group that plays for each other.”
The Regents will have new players taking on larger roles after graduating their top post and point guard from last year’s team. Forwards Anne Ochsner and Gracie Davis join guard Amber Smith as returning starters.
Ashlyn Walston, Autumn Borkowitz, Syd Singh, Grace Sliger and Mauriela Rubio are returning letterwinners. A large class of five freshmen has joined the program.
Coach Carmen Wipf noted a slower offensive pace and improved shot selection could provide growth on that end of the court. Perimeter defense will be another key to this undersized team’s success.
“Denying drives and passes into the lane will be very important for us,” Wipf noted.
First-year head coach Dylan Woodall takes over the Crusaders after coaching at the middle school level in Holden, Missouri. Valley Lutheran will be playing a junior varsity only schedule this season to work on player development.
“I kind of want to focus on developing each player towards a specific role,” Woodall said.